It has always been amazing to me, scandalous sometimes, the way Paris allows itself to slow down to a near-halt in August when the whole city goes on vacation. It’s a
time-honored tradition (established in 1935) that gets everyone involved – from shop keepers to civil servants to government officials. It’s probably the one single thing that opinionated Parisians agree upon – their need, their undeniable right to a month’s holiday. Good for them. Or at least that’s what I thought.
However, this year, I have noticed a “condition” with some French vacationers that could be disabling and potentially dangerous. I’m going to call it OVD (Obsessive-Vacation Disorder). Here’s a little summary of its symptoms and side effects.
First of all, the concept and the word “Vacation” laces everyone’s conversations from the month of May to the month of October. In May, it’s in the planning stages.People are obsessed with getting the best deal; repeatedly searching for bargains for holiday destinations online (and often at work). Coffee breaks are longer as colleagues discuss where they might go and what they might do. They leave work early to shop for their snorkels, walking shoes, tents, golf clubs, etc. The French need extra time to plan and prepare. Any boss can understand that a good vacation doesn’t just happen – he or she is probably using some of his work hours to do exactly the same thing.
The second stage of OVD occurs as the vacation date approaches.
The employee needs to leave his office in a reasonably organized state for his back-up. And that is anxiety-provoking. I have witnessed French colleagues stress out so much in this pre-vacation period that they drop sweat beads on their computers and forget all kinds of important details (such as passwords, essential documents, etc.). Huge computer snafus usually happen in August, just like the one Delta Airlines is experiencing this year. Could the root of that technological disaster be human error? Was that human getting ready to go on holiday? Remember, OVD is chronic, uncontrollable and potentially disabling.
Now, when a Parisian is on holiday in August, someone takes his place who is just returning from their four-week July holiday. One would think that that person would be recharged and ready to go, looking forward to showing off their efficiency. But no, OVD strikes the returning vacationer as well. There are several ways the French “handle” their total lack of productivity upon returning to work post-holiday. The most common one is to
complain – constantly, repeatedly, obsessively. I went to the bank last week and listened to my banker tell me how overwhelmed she was because there were only three people working in her office. She couldn’t even give me an appointment because of all the frenzy going on at her job. She told me to stop by and she would “try to fit me in.” This lady spent at least ten minutes talking about how understaffed they were during the August vacation period; how another colleague was on maternity leave; how that colleague forgot to leave her the information she needed for my account; how the new software they were using was slower than the old one and on and on. When she finally shut up and did what she had to do, it took five minutes. Five minutes.
Another OVD sign for post-vacation stress is the French art of using vacation as an excuse for inefficiency. It happened to a friend of mine during a recent medical visit. She had seen the same nurse for her ongoing cure – once a week every week in the month of June. The nurse had completely forgotten who she was and began treating her as a brand-new patient at her August appointment. She had my friend’s file in her hands but had not thought to read it. When she finally realized her mistake, she apologized by saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry, I just got back from vacation a few days ago. You’ll have to excuse me.” That’s it. That’s an excuse that this professional thought was a reasonable one. So, just how much time does an OVD-sufferer need to get back to the real world? Shouldn’t you be a better worker when you return from holiday? Isn’t that why vacations exist in the first place?
Is there a cure for OVD? I doubt it, at least not for any Frenchman worth his salt.
This ritual, these leisure habits are engrained in the French culture. I simply can’t imagine any Parisian going to an Obsessive-Vacation Disorder support group. For them, obsessing about vacation is just Business as Usual. And, like I said earlier, good for them.